After a thorough exploration of Bandhavgarh’s wildlife and the 1000 year old Shesh Shaiya statue, we embarked on a long road trip to Kanha, where we would be staying at the award-winning Kanha Earth Lodge. But several adventures awaited us before we got there – the foremost of which was the marvellous Ghughua Fossil Park.
Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention in science class but it came as a real revelation that trees have fossils too, the way animals do. After a brief stopover at a roadside tapri (stall) for a piping hot cup of chai from a teapot bubbling on a traditional stone stove, we arrived at Ghughua Fossil Park, situated in the Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh.
The Fossil Park sits adjoining a fossil museum and we suffered a brief moment of indecision before zeroing in on the real thing first.
A rusty gate creaked open when the friendly old caretaker opened it for us. He turned out to be a treasure trove of information on the plants that he tended to so lovingly. He told us that the fossilised plants in the quiet park were 65 million years old! What was the world like that many eons ago? It was a world where the last of the dinosaurs walked the earth, soon to be wiped out in a mysterious mass extinction. Among these enduring relics of the late Cretaceous and early Tertiary periods, the palm fossils are the most renowned. Come here, and you will be introduced to clusters of Eucalyptus fossils, arranged in familiar shapes like hearts and circles. We even saw the fossil of a dinosaur egg, reminding me of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park series.
Taking a break from the fossils belonging to 31 genera of 18 families (scientific classifications), I wandered off to enjoy the views of the landscaped green lawns. After all, they too dated back to the 1970s, when Dr Dharmendra Prasad, the statistical officer of Mandla district discovered the fossils and the park was built. Nothing here was new, including the wrinkly caretaker.
Ghughua educated me on the fact that fossils exist of leaves, fruits, seeds and shells as well. How exactly are they formed? They are basically mineralised remains of plants encased in hardened sediment. The process is called petrification and interestingly, for it to occur, the plant or animal must die in a watery environment. This is why plant fossils are actually more common than animal fossils.
After immersing ourselves among these ghosts of a bygone era, we browsed through more examples of fossilised remains encased in glass cabinets at the museum. For an average tourist, a visit to the park is more than enough introduction to plant fossils. But students and researchers of paleobotany benefit from a perusal of the museum as well.
Other fossil parks that you could visit in India:
- Indroda Dinosaur and Fossil Park, Gujarat
- Mandla Plant Fossils National Park, Madhya Pradesh
- National Fossil Wood Park, Tamil Nadu
- Salkhan Fossils Park, Uttar Pradesh
- Shivalik Fossil Park, Himachal Pradesh
- Days to visit: Any day
- Timings: Sunrise to sunset
- Entry: You need to purchase a ticket
- How to reach: Drive down from Jabalpur airport (110 km) or Umaria station (70 km). The nearest town is Shahpura (15 km).
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